NFU tells ministers: “Do the right thing over farm payment delays”

WITH ONE week to go before Back British Farming Day, the NFU is calling on ministers to “do the right thing” after problems rolling out new farm payment schemes leave farmers facing a bleak end to 2023.

Payments for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) should have been ready to deliver by December but critical delays in the roll-out of the new scheme has meant that farmers are unable to access it in that timescale.

Crucially, this coincides with major reductions in payments under the Basic Payment Scheme, leaving farmers facing a double whammy in the run-up to Christmas.

NFU President Minette Batters said, “We now know that farmers will not be paid this year, despite assurances that they would be. With farm input costs through the roof and interest rates soaring, this leaves farmers in a perilous place. The old scheme goes, the new one’s not ready, and farm businesses are caught in the middle. That’s not fair and we are calling on ministers to recognise that and make it right.”

Wednesday 13 September 2023 marks the NFU’s annual Back British Farming Day – a celebration of farmers and growers, great food and the countryside, and of the people who make a huge contribution to the UK economy.

The problems with SFI do not only affect farmers. The government has legislated for environmental targets through this new scheme (public money for public goods), and farmers have embraced that concept. With the scheme delayed a lot of on-farm environmental work it is designed to pay for cannot begin.

The NFU is therefore calling on ministers to halt any further reduction in existing farm payments – due to fall by £720 million this year alone – until delivery problems with SFI are solved.

Batters said, “All we’re asking for is government to bridge the gap it has created by taking away one set of payments, but not delivering access to their replacements on time.”

Ministers had previously committed that SFI 2023 would be open in August, with payments coming in December. But it will now only be partially open and not until mid-September. It takes some months between a farmer being accepted on to the scheme and payment being made.

Farmers were able to register “an expression of interest” on 30 August, with a handful then expecting “an invitation to apply”, meaning the scheme was “technically” open but the reality is very different.

Payments farmers were relying on will now not come this year and will come to only a handful of farmers in the early part of 2024.

The false start for SFI 2023 comes following an extension to Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier applications, where an extension was granted until 15 September 2023, due to technical issues.

NFU Vice President David Exwood said: “Paying farmers this year was one of the government’s own key tests for delivery of the scheme. With the scale of the roll out of SFI 23 still unclear and with many farmers still not sure what they need to do to apply, the current situation needs to be resolved quickly. Government needs to pause BPS reductions until it can fairly deliver their replacements, otherwise it is farming businesses and farming families which are left bearing the cost.”


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